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American Anti-Slavery Society

City: New York

County: New York

State: New York

The American Anti-Slavery Society was an abolitionist organization that played a crucial role in spreading abolitionism in the North before the Civil War. In December 1833, delegates from state and local abolition societies gathered in Philadelphia to found an agency to promote a national approach to ending slavery. William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore D. Weld, and the Tappan brothers, Lewis and Arthur, were among the leading figures in this venture. Central to its mission was the doctrine of "immediate emancipation," as opposed to the gradualism espoused by some anti-slavery societies. Looking to spread its ideas across the nation, the society subsidized the printing and distribution of abolitionist tracts, pamphlets, and broadsides, and created a network of agents to carry the message throughout the United States. It became one of the first reform organizations to use women in its publicity campaign and to rely on the experiences of freedmen and fugitive slaves in its literature. By 1840, the organization had some 1,600 auxiliary agencies and a membership exceeding 100,000. Financial issues, public opposition, outright suppression, and internecine warfare, however, threatened the organization from the outset. Financial support declined in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837. Its chief tactic, to flood the mails North and South with abolitionist literature, sparked outrage in some American communities. Proslavery mobs in the South invaded post offices to steal and subsequently destroy antislavery literature. Local postmasters removed antislavery material from the mails. Congress responded to the organization's petition campaign by enacting the gag rule. Internal conflicts over Garrison's tactics and dictatorial manner and the role of women and political parties in the abolitionist movement divided the membership. In 1840, the organization splintered under the weight of these accumulated problems. Some members moved into the Liberty Party, while others joined the newly-created American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The American Anti-Slavery Society continued to operate, but most of its functions were passed down to state and local auxiliaries.

Mark R. Cheathem and Terry Corps, Historical Dictionary of the Jacksonian Era and Manifest Destiny (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 35-36; Ronald G. Walters, American Reformers 1815-1860, American Century Series, ed. by Eric Foner (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 80-81, 84-85, 90-91.